“My name’s Claude by the way,” Claude said hastily, returning his gaze to Matt, who smiled in response as he sat down and placed his satchel on the table.
“Nice to meet you, Claude.”
Claude forced himself to relax. If he could just get through the rest of this period, he might be in with a chance of getting Matt to like him.
“Where’ve you moved from?” Claude asked.
“Sappen Manor,” Matt replied casually.
Claude couldn’t help gasping in surprise. Sappen Manor was the most expensive private school in the country.
“How long did you go there for?”
Claude almost fainted. He found himself struggling to imagine how rich Matt’s parents must be.
But then he processed Matt’s answer.
“Twelve years?” he repeated, confused. He did a mental year count in his head. Reception, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. “You’re supposed to be in sixth form?”
Matt shrugged. “I guess. I did my GCSE’s earlier this year. But I didn’t do very well and my parents wanted me to retake. So here I am, at a different school, redoing years 10 and 11.”
“I didn’t know people did that,” Claude murmured, intrigued. Another part of his mind was thinking ‘So, he is two years older than you.’
“I don’t think they do, often,” Matt said. “But I think my parents ... persuaded your headmaster.” He winced. Claude was amazed to think of his headmaster taking bribes. But then again, it was probably quite difficult to say no to a large sum of money if you were head of the school.
Claude was somewhat glad that Matt seemed unwilling to talk about his family’s wealth - modesty was a quality Claude liked in a friend. Then again, Matt was the Silent, Watchful Presence. Claude was quite sure that he’d forgive him a little boastfulness. Maybe even a lot of it.
“And why have you only just joined now?”
“Oh, my parents only just found this place. We moved to the area quite recently and then they started looking around schools. They had very specific criteria.”
“I see,” Claude said, nodding.
He was desperate to ask Matt about how and why he had suddenly entered his life but he reckoned he risked sounding crazy and he couldn’t halt the development of the friendship between them - he couldn’t.
There was one thing Claude felt he was able to ask, however.
“Matt, why did you choose me to sit next to? There are so many other people in this class.”
Matt looked surprised.
“Well, everyone else seems to have established friendships. I thought it would more difficult to join a circle than to pick one or two people to befriend. Also, you looked lonely. A new guy and a lonely person will relate much better, won’t they?”
He smiled. Claude was dazed by the infectious nature of it as he found himself grinning right back.
“So, d’you have any brothers or sisters?” Matt asked conversationally.
“A younger sister - she’s in year 8,” Claude replied. He thought back to yesterday afternoon. “She doesn’t like me very much, though.”
“Oh, that’s a shame,” Matt said, his brow furrowing. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a brother or sister. I’m an only child, you see.”
Claude sighed. “Well, I’d love to have a better relationship with my sister. But she can’t accept that I’m ... different, I suppose.”
Matt cocked his head to the side.
“Mind if I ask how?”
Claude shook his head. Quietly he responded, “I like guys.”
Claude was amazed by himself. He had never admitted this to anyone and he had barely admitted it to himself. But he supposed it was true. He thought male actors were good-looking and he’d never really thought about girls the way most guys seemed to. Plus, he hadn’t really been surprised by Jenny saying she thought he was gay yesterday.
Matt was unruffled. Claude’s heart warmed at this pleasantly surprising reaction. The idea struck him now that his sexuality might have been what had prevented any previous bonding.
“She shouldn’t be frightened of that,” Matt told him calmly. “Nothing wrong with liking people of the same gender. Personally, I like both.”
“Wow,” Claude said.
Matt looked sympathetic.
“You’ve never talked to anyone who wasn’t straight, have you?”
Claude blushed, his eyes wandering to the desk below in embarrassment.
“No,” he confessed.
“Well, that’s okay. You can’t help it.” Claude looked up to see Matt smiling kindly. “The important thing to know is that there are others like you. Okay?”
In a second, he was blurting out, “You’re so nice.”
Matt’s smile widened.
“Matt,” called Mr Foreman.
“Excuse me,” Matt said to Claude, standing up. He went to the front of the room and collected his timetable and the homework dairy provided by the school to every student from the teacher before returning to sit with Claude. Claude noticed Susie eyeing Matt up as he walked.
“So which GCSE’s are you doing?” Matt asked. “Apart from English and Maths.”
“Um, Triple Science, Art, History and R.E.”
“Art, eh? What sort of artwork do you like to create?”
“I like to draw. I can’t control a paintbrush and I like the fineness of a pencil.”
“Can I see something you’ve drawn some day?”
Claude blushed, thinking of all the pictures of Matt.
Matt grinned. “It’s fine if you don’t want me to see.”
Claude smiled. “So, what are you doing?”
“Well, I passed Maths, R.E. and Science this year. But I’m retaking History, French and English.”
“Wow. Hey, I wonder if we’re in any of the same classes. May I see your timetable?”
It turned out that Claude and Matt were in the same class for English and History. It also turned out that Matt had a dozen periods marked Study Time.
“Whoa,” Claude said. “I guess that’s what you get instead of all the other GCSE’s. What’ll you do during them?”
Matt shrugged. “I guess I’ll read if I don’t have any homework.”
“What d’you like to read?” Claude inquired, curious. By now he had figured out that whatever power had brought Matt out of his imagination hadn’t given him the same personality as Claude but he was still interested to learn that Matt enjoyed reading.
“Horror,” Matt replied. “I’m a great lover of horror. You?”
Claude shrugged. “I’ve not really found a genre I like yet.”
“Ah, well, if you’re ever interested, you can borrow one of my books. My bookshelf gives a detailed insight into my reading history.” Matt grinned. “It still contains the kiddy books.”
Claude grinned. “Thanks,” he said.
At that moment the bell rang. Matt glanced at his timetable.
“Ah, study time. See you at break, Claude. I’ll meet you outside English - when I find it.”
The boys rose and were about to leave when Mr Foreman called Matt to his desk again. Claude left while Matt went to talk to him - presumably about the arrangements for his study time. Claude walked to Biology with a wide smile on his face. Matt seemed great.